Why Supernatural Horror Is My Least Favourite Horror Subgenre 

Supernatural horror is just weird

There are many types of horror other than the supernatural kind. These are called the different horror subgenres. Slasher. Body Horror. Nature horror. Cosmic horror. Psychological horror. Folk horror. Gothic horror. Of all these types, supernatural horror is my least favourite.

That might seem like a strange position from someone who affirms the supernatural worldview of the Bible, and who believes that the Bible itself contains horror elements. I have three reasons for this view, three reasons why I dislike supernatural horror as it is mostly presented.

  1. Supernatural horror tends to lack any comprehensive worldview. Weird stuff just sort of happens.
  2. The supernatural aspects of the story lack accuracy. The weird stuff isn’t correct or consistent in how it works out.
  3. They almost completely neglect the supernatural terror of the good. Only bad is scary (and interesting).

The Lack of an Explanatory Worldview

With sci-fi and fantasy, you need to put in the effort with worldbuilding. With supernatural horror, there is an ignoring of coherence. Its creators think that the genre gives them a licence to improvise. Any internal black holes of explanation are just blamed on the “because it’s supernatural”. I feel that Stephen King stories are particularly guilty of this.

Some might argue that incomprehensibility is the point of the supernatural in supernatural horror. If the events were explainable, it would be some other sort of horror, such as slasher or psychological. Supernatural horror is by definition inexplicable, outside the realm of rational coherence or observable cause-and-effect.

But I believe it’s possible to give supernatural horror stories an internally coherent worldview while still letting them remain supernatural. The best examples of the genre do so. For example, Dracula is a supernatural horror story – strictly, a gothic horror – but because the vampire lore it contains is so extensive, by the end, we have amassed a substantial body of knowledge about vampires in general and this one in particular. Everything makes sense in context.

The Supernatural Element is Inaccurate and Ignorant

Veterans who watch war films get agitated by the smallest things, details that no one else would mind. A weapon named or held incorrectly, a beret worn wrong, a medal or badge that’s out of sync with the rest of the uniform. I know an ex-fireman who can’t watch any kind of action thriller about firefighters for this reason.

That’s something like how I feel, as someone with a doctorate in Christian theology, when I watch horror films that deal with demons, crucifixes, exorcisms, hell, satanic rites, evil nuns, mad preachers, possession, relics, witches, weird cults, the devil, the antichrist, the apocalypse, and other elements of the Christian religion. It’s not that I disagree with the inclusion of these themes. It’s that they’re generally not handled well.

It is true there few films that are from a purely Christian trajectory. Most have elements of paganism and folklore mixed in with the supernatural aspect, as with the earlier example of Dracula. Some might protest that to expect horror movies to be somehow ‘theologically correct’ is a ridiculous expectation that stifles the creativity of the storyteller.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. In the 1998 film Fallen, with Denzel Washington, a demon called Azazel can possess human beings by touch, and is transferred from one host to another by touch. Why? Is there any reason given – either theologically or dramatically – why demons behave in this way? No. It makes no sense. It’s a plot convenience invented by the scriptwriters that has no grounding in anything to do with demonology.

The Complete Neglect of the Terror of the Good

In supernatural horror films, at least the best of them, the baddies can often win. I don’t mind that at all. One of the strengths of the horror genre in general is that it has the guts to let evil win sometimes. That’s exactly what makes films like The Wicker Man (1973), Se7en and Hereditary three of the greatest horror films of all time. Evil winning – that’s the horror! But, even if evil loses, villains are still more interesting than the heroes.

But what if there’s another level of horror, a kind of horror that makes the evil afraid. Juvenal asked, who watches the watchers? Well, I ask, who frightens the frighteners? Who scares the scarers and terrifies the terrors? Who horrifies the horrors? What do I mean by this? I mean that if you’re going to bring demons into the story, you need to appreciate there are some things that even demons fear.

“You believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”

James 2:19

No matter what you think about the truth or ethics of the Bible, you have to admit one point – the God it talks about is frightening, and is supposed to be thought of as such. He destroys cities with sulphur and an entire world with a flood. He is called a Consuming Fire and says his name is Terrible. He hides in darkness and his laughter scares his foes. (And, by the way, his angels are terrifying too!) Whatever else this is, it isn’t boring, and leaves plenty of subject matter for horror stories.

These three flaws aren’t necessary to the telling of supernatural horror. They just tend to turn up repeatedly and spoil it for me. One reason why I want to raise awareness of the supernatural horror stories in the Bible is to rectify these weaknesses and make the genre stronger. If you’re going to use Christian elements in your supernatural horror, you might as well do them right and use all of them! Otherwise, when you try to scare me with haunted houses, I won’t shiver – I’ll just shrug at how random and silly it all seems.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

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